Imagine this maintenance scenario: Using a tablet computer, an electrician photographs a Quick Response code, or QR code, pasted on an electrical cabinet. Within seconds, the tablet locates a raft of detailed information specific to this piece of equipment that the electrician is about to work on. It is all there at his fingertips: unique hazards, arc flash concerns, instructions for how the electrician must prepare himself and the worksite for servicing it, diagrams, manuals and more.
Before touching the equipment, he reads an electronic document on the tablet called a Safe Work Package (SWP), which has been custom-written for this piece of equipment in a question and answer format. He reads about the personal protection equipment (PPE) he needs for this job and checks off boxes in the SWP that show that he understands what he is to do. This Q&A session takes him through other details, such as working distance, fault current, upstream overcurrent devices such as breakers, and when the latest analysis of the equipment was performed.
Once he has worked through the SWP, he signs off and closes the document. Thoroughly briefed and prepared, he may now begin to work. The next time he enters a WiFi hot spot providing wireless access to the Internet, the tablet will send the completed SWP to a supervisor for review and then it will be forwarded to an archive containing all of the other completed SWPs submitted by the company’s electricians.
There’s more. As the electrician works, he can use his tablet to access photographs, electrical diagrams and whatever else other electricians and electrical planners might have filed and linked to the QR code that has been placed on the equipment.
By scanning the QR code with the tablet, linked documents can be viewed. The entire Ontario Electrical Safety Code and other safe work documents are at the electrician’s fingertips on the tablet. If he wishes, he can take more photos with the tablet to add to the equipment’s dossier, such as nameplate dates, damage or the condition of a workroom. He can also key in notes of his own.
The information that this electrician is able to access, without taking a single step toward a supervisor’s office, is unparalleled in the history of his trade. This technology is being used right now at the Musselwhite gold mine in northwestern Ontario. The mine is a property of Vancouver-based Goldcorp Inc.
On-the-spot access to information
Not only is the technology helping the mine’s 55 electricians to do their dangerous jobs more safely, it is also improving efficiency by giving them on-the-spot access to documentation that used to be locked away in a distant office.
“The great feature of this mobile application is that it puts the information in the hands of the workers when and where they need it,” says Howard Boland, site electrical coordinator, Musselwhite Mine. “They don’t have to go to the manager’s office to get a copy of the code, or go to a computer to see a drawing. As our electricians work through the SWP, they are required to acknowledge that they understand what is required for the task. If they don’t [understand something], they can access additional information.”
The tablets are the workplace-end of a web-based application called e-workSAFE, developed by Ontario’s Electrical Safety Authority (ESA). Its genesis lies in an effort begun in 2004 by the ESA to develop the framework for an Electrical Safety Plan (ESP) based on the United States’ NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. The aim of the ESP was to help organizations meet the requirements of what would become the CSA Z462 standard, the first edition of which was written in 2008.
Mark Jorgensen, a work safety specialist with ESA, worked on that first ESP framework. The goal, using funding from a group of mining companies, to be repaid with a commensurate waiver of ESA user fees, was to develop an online tool. The plan was good, but the idea for the tool was ahead of its time, as in that period there was no web-based technology that could efficiently hold the tens of thousands of documents required for a big mine.
“We developed an architecture or skeleton of what an ESP should be. But it was heavy and produced several pieces of paper for every task. The concept was ripe, but the technology was wrong. I came back to the project two years ago and we looked at available technologies, discovered tablets and thought, ‘this could work’. We discovered QR codes and developed a process,” Jorgensen says.
As a result, there was no longer any need to print paper for each task. Forms could all be carried in a portable tablet and completed by using a touch-screen. The first e-workSAFE program went live with the Musselwhite mine in the fall of 2012.
Arc flash dangers
The ESP contains everything a mine needs to help it comply with CSA Z462, but it doesn’t tell the electrician how to safely work on specific pieces of equipment, or in particular, how to avoid explosive arc flashes. These specific instructions are contained in the SWPs, which include an arc flash study for each piece of equipment.
An arc flash occurs when current, instead of moving through equipment, takes a shortcut through the air. Lightening is an example of an arc flash. When an arc flash happens at a piece of electrical equipment, the result can be like a bomb going off. The force and extreme heat can cause severe burns and death. The ESP is intended to prevent arc flash hazards from happening.
“Arc flashes are what cause the burns and kill people [or] put people in burn units. The whole idea of the ESP is to ensure that the workers have the proper equipment available to them, and conduct the work in such a way that the effects of an arc flash are mitigated,” Boland says.
There are about 2,500 pieces of equipment with QR codes on them in the Musselwhite mine. Each piece of equipment involves five to 10 tasks, which translates into somewhere between 12,500 and 25,000 SWPs. “We had SWPs before, but we were unsuccessful in implementing them because of the volume of paperwork involved. We made several attempts to implement SWPs, but we were unsuccessful. We just didn’t know how to do it,” Boland says.
The ESP and all those SWPs reside on servers at the ESA. ESA can update any documentation for which it has responsibility, and this in turn updates the information accessible on the tablets. If Musselwhite installs a new piece of equipment, it places a QR code on it and writes an ESP for it. This is then uploaded onto the ESA server under the mine’s account and then the information on the tablets is updated.
If regulatory authorities need to see any signed-off SWPs, they are immediately accessible. This saves time, Boland says. “Think of the time it would take for a front-line supervisor to handle, manage and make accessible paper documents to regulatory authorities.”
“This mobile technology is not only opening up a whole new world for mine electricians, we are moving electricians and safety into the 21st century,” Jorgensen delares. “This is already being applied in petrochemical, automotive and forest industries, and institutional (municipal) settings. The possibilities now are absolutely endless.”
Montreal-based Carroll McCormick is MRO Magazine’s senior contributing editor.
Distributor sees benefit of tablet use for maintenance
The sky is the limit for future applications of the tablet app the Electrical Safety Authority developed and which electricians at the Musselwhite gold mine are using. Raymond Parent, the branch manager for Wajax Industrial Components in Thunder Bay, ON, sees how a version of it could someday help his staff at the mine.
“Since the mine has been operating, we’ve been involved with replacement parts, upgrades, parts substitutions and on-site service companies. With the safety environment in the industry, no worker can do work without an authorized scope of work – not only electrical, but mechanical work too. I can see that coming very soon, where the tablet will be available to every service technician in every industry.
“For example, a lot of times the mine will bring in people like us to do service work on a hydraulic unit. I regard hydraulic units to be just as dangerous as electrical equipment. It would be good if our service technicians were given a tablet and could scan a QR code and read about all the lockout points and safe work procedures. This would be a good sign-off procedure in the future.” Carroll McCormick